Seychelles Table of Contents

Class and Social Structure

Several indexes of social status operate. The first is color. Although almost all Seychellois are so racially mixed as to defy classification, light skin remains a status feature because authority in Seychelles has been traditionally vested in a white plantation owner or manager, or later in British officials. Skin color, according to anthropologist Burton Benedict, is distinguished in Seychelles by the terms blanc (white), rouge (red), or noir (black), all of which are applied relatively depending on the speaker's own pigmentation. Economic achievement and material possessions are equally important signs of social status.

According to Benedict, Seychellois are highly status conscious and are anxious to improve their social positions. Possessions, particularly land and substantial homes, are important indicators of status and prestige. Fine clothing, cars, jewelry, and watches are similarly regarded. A willingness to spend freely is, among men, a means to impress others.

Persons with light skin enjoy greater prestige, but the skin shade does not reliably determine social status or position of power in society. Lighter-skinned persons find it easier to advance to managerial or supervisory positions. It is considered advantageous to marry a lighter-skinned person, although a wealthier man of dark skin or a darker-skinned woman with property may not experience such discrimination. Social tensions based on race are almost unknown, and persons of differing racial types mix freely in schools, business, and social gatherings.

A feature of the Seychellois social system is the prevalence of sexual relationships without formal marriage. Most family units take the form of de facto unions known as living en ménage. One result of this practice is that nearly threefourths of all children born in the islands are born out of wedlock. Most of these children are, however, legally acknowledged by their fathers.

The institutionalization of en ménage unions as alternatives to legal marriage can be attributed to several factors. The expense of socially required wedding festivities, trousseaus, and household furnishings can exceed a year's income for a laborer. Widely separated economic status of partners, a mother's wish to retain the earning potential of her son, or a previous marriage by one partner may be impediments to marriage. The difficulty and expense of divorce also tend to discourage a legal relationship. Although frowned upon by the church and civil authorities, en ménage unions are generally stable and carry little stigma for either partner or for their children. Among women of higher status, prevailing standards of social respectability require that they be married to the men with whom they are living. Sexual fidelity is not as likely to be demanded of husbands, who often enter into liaisons with lower-class women.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress